Japan plans to ease restrictions on the licensing of bilingual tour guides under a deregulatory initiative aimed at bringing in more tourists, government sources said.
The central government licenses professional bilingual tour guides through the use of qualification tests, but only nine local governments are permitted to train them for local employment.
Of the 17,000 or so tour guides licensed to handle foreign clients, however, only a quarter work primarily in large cities, leaving shortages in rural regions, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.
Deregulating the licensing regime will encourage towns, cities and prefectures to train bilingual tour guides according to their own standards, irrespective of the national qualifying tests.
The government intends to submit legislation to the Diet as early as this fall to launch the initiative in fiscal 2015 starting next April, the sources said.
The initiative is expected to increase high-quality tours led by guides well-versed in local conditions and help the central government achieve its numerical tourism goal of 20 million foreign visitors per year by 2020, compared with 11 million last year.
Among the nine local governments that have already trained bilingual tour guides, Sapporo is trying to add more to handle the growing influx of Asian travelers.
The languages covered by the tour guides registered in Sapporo include Malay, Thai and Hindi, as well as English, Chinese and Korean.
The training regimen for English includes 10 hours each in conversation, local geography and history, and tour management, in addition to 18 hours of on-the-job training.
When Sapporo publicly invited people to undergo training last year, the limit of 80 was reached in only a day and a half.